With HMICFRS inspections scrutinising selection and assessment processes, and the development of the comprehensive new NFCC Talent Management Toolkit, recruitment and promotions are back in the spotlight for many FRS.

FRS’s evolve their recruitment and selection practices relatively regularly. Whether this is budgetary or efficiency-led; based on discovery of better methods; new personnel bringing fresh ideas; or a need to adapt to tackle candidate dissatisfaction, new approaches can take a lot of work to develop, implement and gain buy-in for.

Approaches which are gaining momentum are on-line methods of conducting selection and development assessments. Whether this is something you may need to consider in the future, or are actively weighing up now, here are 13 learning points from our experience at VCA Ltd which we think you may find useful.

  1. Applicants for firefighter recruitment are positive about an online and telephone role-play. This may be because they are highly motivated and will throw themselves into whatever comes along, are used to online assessments, or maybe because they don’t want to give negative feedback (even anonymously). But satisfaction ratings are very good, and even at sifting stage, candidates appreciate the chance to have some interaction.
  2. For promotional activity, around 25% of candidates will report that they don’t like telephone role-plays, preferring face-to-face interactions. However, past ADCs averaged 50% of candidates disliking the role-play format! This year we are providing the role-play in video call format so candidates can experience the face-to-face interaction some may prefer. To address these issues we also have a new, online, interactive training workshop to support candidates with the role-play format (see below).
  3. Candidate preparation matters, particularly if the format is new. It needs to cover more than ‘where, when and how’. To improve candidate satisfaction ratings and result outcomes, candidates need to be supported to understand about the exercises types, format, how it will be scored and how to maximise their performance. VCA Ltd is currently developing a new e-learning course to replace the existing e-book and briefing sessions provided, in recognition of a range of learning styles.
  4. It is useful to survey candidates immediately after they complete assessment activity, to give you an accurate insight into attitudes. In later focus group settings (e.g. HMICFRS inspection), or after candidates have received their results, opinions may be more polarised and reflect more negatively on methods used.
  5. Candidates can be trusted to complete their online assessments at home! These assessments can be monitored e.g. using MS Teams, but in our experience candidates get their heads down and get on with assessments without a strong need for this. This is serving particularly useful as an option for candidates who are unable to attend on-site assessments.
  6. People like to see on-line information displayed differently, so it’s useful to have options for a different screen layout. Due to recent candidate feedback we have added the ability to change the layout (answer box and background information) to suit the candidates preference. The option to have print-outs should also be available if there is a clear preference or supporting reason for this (avoiding printing keeps the process as environmentally friendly as possible as well as reduces additional admin tasks).
  7. On role-plays, add to the instructions that the actor may be male or female. Even with gender-neutral names, candidates can still have expectations, and need to be made aware these may not be met.
  8. Unsuccessful candidates attempting the assessment for a second time in the following cohort show an average of a 10% improvement. Many FRS´s have development programmes that unsuccessful candidates complete prior to a second attempt. Anecdotally, improvement does seem to be linked to attitude to feedback and development.
  9. Candidates have adapted incredibly well to on-line assessments.

    I thought the exercise was very realistic and gave me the opportunity to prove that I was able to identify issues internally and externally to my organisation and was a very enjoyable 75 minutes. All in all I found it very enjoyable and challenging due to time restraints.
    Anonymous Candidate Feedback

    This development has undoubtedly been helped by the increase in video meetings and on-line learning, normalising the concept.

  10. FRS´s conducting the assessments have also adapted very well to the transition from traditional assessment formats to online versions. Feedback has shown that the reduction in paperwork, administration and being able to have the process managed externally from start to finish, allows clients to dedicate their time and resources elsewhere, which is very welcome given the pressures many are facing currently.
  11. With the CPG exercises, we’ve found that overall results (i.e. average percentage score for a group of candidates) are very similar if you are just using one exercise, irrespective if this is the case study or role-play. However; for clients using both exercises, there can be a big difference in a candidate´s performance across the two exercises. So this means that although it might look like you’d get much the same results whether using one exercise or two, if you only use one, some candidates may be disadvantaged. It is recommended that to get an accurate reflection of true candidate performance, candidates should be offered the opportunity to demonstrate their strengths using different exercise formats with a consistent scoring framework.
  12. There are differences in the way different FRS’s perform in the Leadership Qualities. The biggest difference tends to lie in Service Delivery; the most consistency across services is in Personal Impact ratings.
  13. Online assessments are cost effective and can offer significant cost savings when compared to the traditional ADC or other formats. A client offered a recent cost analysis of two comparable processes between their traditional ADC and the online CPG and benefitted from a cost saving of £673 per candidate.